COL Creativity will help prevent 9-year-old from becoming a couch potato
Q: Our 9-year-old son is a real couch potato who wants to spend all of his free time watching television. He has never been interested in team sports, and we're worried he will become obese or develop health problems because of his inactivity. How can we get him off the couch?
A: You're right on target in recognizing the importance of physical activity, even at this early stage of your child's development. But for your son to develop a healthier, more active lifestyle, he'll need to find activities that suit his interests. This will happen most successfully if your son's inactivity does not become the focus of a power struggle between you and him. Nagging is likely to make him hunker down on that couch even more. I'd suggest you take a long-term view and begin to gradually encourage your son to make physical activity a part of his daily life. Here are some suggestions:
Be creative in identifying recreational activities beyond the usual team sports. Go family bowling on a Saturday afternoon or hit a bucket of balls at a driving range. Or, for something really different, check out one of the large sporting goods stores that offer safe and exciting indoor rock climbing. Or perhaps an individual activity such as in-line skating, cross-country skiing or snowshoeing would appeal to your son. (Some public parks make equipment available at little or no cost.) Try starting with just one activity a week and see what sparks his interest. You might even get ideas from watching what his favorite television characters do.
If your son isn't too embarrassed or inhibited, get him up and dancing to his favorite music. Sometimes when parents let their hair down and get a little bit silly, kids will join in too. See who can create the most unusual new dance step.
Your son is at a good age to be assigned regular household chores. Make sure that his chores are active ones: shoveling, lawn work, vacuuming, carrying groceries in from the car, and walking the dog. Let him know how proud you are that he's able to take on these grown-up tasks.
In the course of your usual family activities, look for opportunities to build in extra activity. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, walk to the corner store instead of driving, and, if you drive, park at the far end of the parking lot. Even small amounts of activity can make a difference when done frequently.
Finally, with regard to your son's TV watching, remember that you are in charge. It's appropriate for parents to set clear, consistent limits on how much television a child is allowed to watch. Engage your son in choosing the programs he most wants to watch throughout the week. Then encourage him to find a variety of other activities to fill his remaining free time. I hope that he will discover how much fun he can have away from the television. The payoff will be healthier development for him and relief for you.
Dr. Martha Erickson, director of the University of Minnesota's Children, Youth and Family Consortium, invites your questions on child rearing. E-mail them to email@example.com or send them to Growing Concerns, University of Minnesota News Service, 6 Morrill Hall, 100 Church St. S.E., Minneapolis, MN 55455.